30 April 2009

"Totem to King's Blood Four."

RYOB Challenge 2009: Sherri S. Tepper's The True Game (Ace, 1996).

In The True Game, a young man named Peter is sent from the safety of his school out into a world to find his mother. Along the way, he discovers a set of carved game pieces and a mysterious book ... long lost treasures that will reveal untold Talents, set in motion ancient plans, and tell the true history of his world.

I was very amused by Tepper's successful creation of a world based, apparently, on a Dungeons and Dragons-esque version of chess. The characters are (mostly) all pieces in the Game (from Pawns to Kings) and they are playing for life or death. The world of The True Game, you see, is entirely based on the Game. Its political and social structure, its economics and religion, are all dependent on what happens in the Game. As we learn through Peter, how you live your life and what Talents are discovered in you at adolescence, determines what sort of rank or type of piece you are in the Game. Of course, no-one wants to be a sacrificial Pawn!

The True Game collects the first three books in the True Game series (King's Blood Four, Necromancer's Nine, Wizard's Eleven). There are nine books in this series, grouped together in three different trilogies. The other two trilogies concern the boy's mother, Mavin Manyshaped (The Song of Mavin Manyshaped, The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped, The Search for Mavin Manyshaped) and his wife, Jinian (Jinian Footseer, Dervish Daughter, Jinian Star-Eye). I understand that the trilogies are not ordered chronologically (the middle trilogy happens first). I suspect, rather like with the Chronicles of Narnia, you could read them in either in the order set by the author or chronologically without your brain exploding!

20 April 2009

Yes, I See How Clever You Are (Shut Up, Already!)

RYOB Challenge 2009: John L'Heureux's The Handmaid of Desire (Soho Press, 1996).

The Handmaid of Desire is set in the English department of an unnamed California university ("The university") where Olga Kominska, a mysterious visiting professor famed for her feminist theory, has arrived to teach a course on Foucault. Will Olga be the answer to her peers's prayers or will she destroy their tiny incestuous universe?

The novel started off promisingly, but had become quite tedious by Part II. I began to hate all the characters and just wanted the book to end ...

The Handmaid of Desire is a snide little novel full of academic in-jokes and literary styling I am just too dumb to appreciate. I will be quite happy to donate it to the FOL book sale.

17 April 2009

"It's like a fairy tale," said Betsy. "A dark sort of fairy tale ..."

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1952) 

This is the second-to-last book in the fantastic Betsy-Tacy series. In this volume, Betsy is now twenty-one and is off to Europe for a year. College hasn’t worked out very well for her and, perhaps, a year abroad will help her become a better author. The story starts off with the trip across the Atlantic Ocean and leads her through Munich, Italy, and Great Britain. Betsy makes new friends, suffers homesickness, and writeswriteswrites.

Betsy and the Great World is a deliciously charming, but also a terribly bittersweet. Oh, I am sure Lovelace did not write it to be bittersweet and you may not read it as such, but I found it so. The novel describes a world which no longer exists -- indeed, stopped existing almost before the novel concludes. Betsy's joy and excitement, her friendships, her adventures ... they are all tainted by the creeping shadow of WWI.
Betsy and the Wilsons left Switzerland behind on the twenty-eighth of June. She remembered how, reading in a newspaper about the murder of an Austrian archduke in the Balkan town of Sarajevo, she amused herself as the train sped through the night by plotting a romantic novel full of titled corpses, spies, and intrigue.
Even though I know I'm worrying about fictional people, I find myself wondering what happened to poor Tilda and Helena? Did Hanni marry her soldier? Would any of them have survived the War?

And I did cry, old sap that I am, when war was declared, the Territorials were called up, and it looked like Betsy had better get out of England while she still could.

I think I’ll be reading this book again (along with L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside) the next time I'm feeling a bit maudlin and romantic.